John Akomfrah's Vertigo Sea as presented in the San Fransisco Museum of Modern Art | Photo Courtesy of SFMoMA

Art films are underground and underappreciated

I have basked in all the glory the SFMOMA’s seven floors hold, spending hours weaving my way through rooms and stairs and the dark rooms embellished with a screen or two that continuously loop a film that brings up so many questions. Art never fails to  always leave me wondering.

Having visited multiple major modern art museums across California,  San Francisco Museum of Modern Art being the most frequently visited, I have learned to adapt and appreciate an artists perspective on film. After viewing John Akomfrah’s Vertigo Sea, a three-channel video, for the third time, I was shocked at how introspective films such as the ones featured in museums are so often unannounced to the public. Thus the absence of these films in my daily life really makes me question why they aren’t made more accessible?

In 2017 Istanbul Modern held an International Artist’s Film Exhibition | Photo Courtesy of Sonraki

My curiosity teased me to do a bit of research on art films and their culture. Evidently, these films are directed to a niche market rather than a mass market audience, and with careful thought, it is clear why that is.

Often times, releasing art or anything for that matter to the mass market results in its spoiling. Similar to film photography, leaving a photograph in a single chemical solution for too long will ruin the image the same way too much exposure for art films will result in their distortion. In this case, art films such as the ones presented in museums take a special kind of individual to sit down and understand; one who wants to sit down and think about what they are watching. So it became clear why artists do not allow themselves to be exploited, especially when their target audience is not necessarily the “everyday person”.

Mass market films, ones produced with hundreds to millions of dollars and are ranked by box office success, are targeted to an audience that are specifically looking to escape thought and comprehension. A common theme represented by people who go to the movies is the need for relaxation or escape from reality for a few hours. So it makes sense that the art films are not exposed in that way, because they do not offer that same sense of realization.

Art films force you into complexity of the mind and the body. The whole film is an outward and inward experience. Jump cuts to random and unseemingly relatable scenes will cause you confusion and hysteria of the mind, certain scenes will make you squirm as they expose reality, but in the end you are left wondering what the story was and why it was so important to produce in such ways.

Mass market movies should not be replaced by art films, but more representation and recognition of meaningful works should be prioritized  With every generation, fine and liberal arts are becoming more accepted and appreciated, and it is only a matter of time that art film has its big breakthrough.

Thousands of people storm Philadelphia’s Chestnut Street for the premier of Star Wars in 1977 | Photo Courtesy of Flashbak

In the big picture, people fail to recognize art for what it is. With artistic films, one needs to be ready to enter a euphoria of allusions and deep thought. It does not provide the same simplicity a regular mass market movie would offer.

Artistic films— the ones that end up in modern art museums— are underappreciated and are often overlooked by the public due to the mass-produced movies forced upon the public due to capitalism. Their ability to stretch both the mind and body by revealing the underlying meanings of certain situations in life allow for a neurotic and euphoric experience. You lose a sense of reality watching them even though you ponder about that same reality.

Written by Jana Ariss

Jana is a Senior at MC and the Co-Editor in Chief of The MC Sun.

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